Hard News by Russell Brown

The detail on the detail

There you go. I finish a blog explaining why Winston Peters was never going to countenance the cantilevered coalition allegedly offered him by National and the Herald puts it beyond doubt by leading today with the news that New Zealand First party president Doug Woolerton has resigned in protest at Peters' impending decision to not only support Labour on confidence and supply, but to accept a post as Foreign Minister outside Cabinet; a surprising job for Peters and, perhaps, a valedictory one.

But before that, let us tarry briefly. You may have seen my post last week about the dismissal last week of Press columnist Alexis Stuart, on grounds of her plagiarism of her father (and Maxim Institute director) Bruce Logan. Well, that got Paul Litterick rolling, and he has just published an amazing Fundy Post.

It turns out that not only is Mrs Stuart fond of using tracts of other people's work in her writing, so is her father. You can read the Fundy Post and marvel that it has happened for so long. The editors of The Press, the Northland Age, the Otago Daily Times and others will presumably be very interested to see what they have been publishing. And that sound you hear is Maxim's credibility going down the gurgler.

And now, on with the coalition show …

It's the detail. And then it's the detail on the detail. That is why Labour's support negotiations with New Zealand First have not been quickly concluded. Winston's policy requirements are also surprisingly wide-ranging, taking in issues that have not even been spoken of in the media.

While you might be inclined to bag Winston for wanting everything (at least as a starting point for negotiation), you cannot fairly accuse him of playing king-maker for going to National for a better offer - for the simple reason that he didn't go to National.

The written offer from National that commanded the newspapers on Saturday morning was only forthcoming after Peters said on Morning Report on Friday, when asked whether he was considering offers from National, that he hadn't had anything in writing.

And what was he offered that afternoon? A very brief letter implying a process deal: an undertaking as to how he and his party might be consulted in the event of a National-led government.

Well, duh. If it was a simple as a process deal, Helen Clark's title would not currently include the word "caretaker". Peters didn't accept such a proposal when he delivered National into government in 1996, and it would appear that he hasn't accepted it from Labour.

Therefore, short of an inexplicable change of approach, a credible offer from National would have to include a similar degree of detail. It would take another three or four weeks to hammer out. Would Winston really want to keep the country waiting as long again as it has already? Having promised before the election that things would be done and dusted within about three weeks of polling day? I think not. He does value his reputation.

We haven't even got as far as thinking about National's apparent offer to the Maori Party to review the foreshore and seabed legislation. That's an act that was passed only with New Zealand First's votes, one which Peters publicly promised to promote on the marae, and one on which he had a direct influence. Is he really going to enter an arrangement premised on a private promise by National, to the Maori Party, to scrap it in favour of an unspecified solution? I guess nothing's impossible, but I find it really hard to picture.

And then you've got someone with the mana of Dr Ranginui Walker publicly warning the Maori Party that an agreement for it to support National "doesn't bear contemplating" and accusing Tariana Turia of acting on a "personal grudge". Then unhappy National MPs describing the idea of going into government relying on Maori Party support as "political dynamite" and "madness".

Oh, and two of the parties whose support National claimed to have sewn up to gather the numbers necessary for government telling reporters they had made no such agreement and were negotiating with Labour.

It starts to add up a bit, doesn't it?

So National's apparent bid to form a government was never anything but a spoiler. You'd be rash to predict exactly when Helen and Winston might have a photo-op together, but I think it will be this week.

If the Greens don't get any kind of ministerial post - for want of the 1246 votes that would have tipped the balance - they will be grumpy, but really have little option but to reap as much as possible on a policy agreement (and frankly, the Greens pet policies cost lunch money compared to Winston's) and get on with it.

They might well be extra sour if, in order to get him and his silly party in the tent, Labour offers Peter Dunne some sort of ministerial post. It could happen.

And then, yes, the Maori Party will have an opportunity to negotiate its own agreement: assuming it can actually manage to negotiate competently. It doesn't have to all be done at once. Remember, the agreement with the Greens three years ago wasn't settled until a couple of weeks after Labour had secured its ground with United Future.

What we have to worry about now is how much all this is going to cost, especially given the Reserve Bank governor's grim warnings about inflationary pressure. Well, even Peters has admitted he won't get GST off petrol (frankly, I think Michael Cullen would rather resign. And the cost of that superannuitants' Gold Card would depend on the extent to which it was actually gold-plated.

I guess we'll find out. And very soon it will be summer, and we won't care so much for a while. We will think, for good reasons, that it's good here anyway. Sometimes, of course, it helps to see ourselves as others see us. They might really like us: the Sydney Morning Herald's Paola Totaro absolutely loves us to bits (right-wing bloggers note: this story may act as an emetic).

On my journey back from the airport last week, my Indian immigrant taxi driver told me how much he liked Auckland: especially the fairly manageable level of traffic on the roads - much better than back home - and the not-too-hot summers.

But it was my Fijian Indian immigrant driver on the outbound trip who really said something lovely. It was still dark in the morning and teeming with rain - but, he pointed out, it was better to have a bit of this than to be like some places in Australia that didn't know where their water was going to come from in the next few years. Summing up, he said:

"One doesn't know how lucky we are."

I really like that sentence. I imagine it as the catchphrase of a character in Bro' Town, in homage to Fred Dagg. And we should all be so positive.